Expectations of brilliance underlie gender distributions across academic disciplines

Science. 2015 Jan 16;347(6219):262-5. doi: 10.1126/science.1261375.


The gender imbalance in STEM subjects dominates current debates about women's underrepresentation in academia. However, women are well represented at the Ph.D. level in some sciences and poorly represented in some humanities (e.g., in 2011, 54% of U.S. Ph.D.'s in molecular biology were women versus only 31% in philosophy). We hypothesize that, across the academic spectrum, women are underrepresented in fields whose practitioners believe that raw, innate talent is the main requirement for success, because women are stereotyped as not possessing such talent. This hypothesis extends to African Americans' underrepresentation as well, as this group is subject to similar stereotypes. Results from a nationwide survey of academics support our hypothesis (termed the field-specific ability beliefs hypothesis) over three competing hypotheses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Achievement
  • Aptitude*
  • Attitude*
  • Black or African American
  • Career Choice
  • Culture
  • Education, Graduate
  • Faculty
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence*
  • Male
  • Natural Science Disciplines*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sexism*
  • Social Sciences*
  • Stereotyping
  • Students
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Women
  • Workforce